Secret Life of 4-year-olds returns as a series

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A documentary charting the development of 50 four-year-olds at nursery re-emerges as a series tomorrow.


Two episodes will chronicle children aged four meeting their peers for the first time in a nursery setting. The seven-part series will then move on to five- and then six-year-olds, with the final episode a Christmas special revisiting the children in the original programme shown early this year.

The children are observed meeting each other, playing and finding friendships - or conflicts - by three scientists, who comment on the development of key skills such as emotional regulation, empathy and the emergence of morals.

Psychologist Dr Sam Wass of Cambridge University said the programme allowed us to understand more what the world feels like from the point of view of a child.

He said, ‘The thing that has astonished me most about the programme is the amount of development that you see between these ages of four and six. …It’s fascinating that the change comes naturally to some children, while others find it really, really challenging. You can have social catastrophes flying around left, right and centre. That’s sometimes funny, sometimes heart-breaking to watch – but the thing that’s always amazing about these kids is their resilience.’

The other observers are neuroscientist Professor Paul Howard-Jones, Bristol University, and Dr Elizabeth Kilbey of Oxleas NHS Trust.

Teresa Watkins, the series’ co-creator, said the series came about because she was ‘fascinated by four-year-olds’, adding, ‘At four years old children have the basics of language and all the myriad skills they’ve learned in their years at home and they are about to take a giant leap into the more regimented and social world of school. This sets them on the threshold of a whole new world. But to what degree are their futures already mapped out? We liked the way that child development specialists use simple observation - alongside scientific tests - as a key tool for studying children of this age.’

She added that ‘If a child gets very upset, or has real difficulty sharing, or wants to get their own way you have to be convinced that these scenes are pertinent to the story of the week. There are many reasons why children get upset and we are very careful only to show tricky behaviour in context and with explanatory comments from our observing scientists so that it is never gratuitous and to avoid any child being "labelled" unjustly for certain behaviour.’

'The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6 Year Olds' begins on 3 November on Channel 4 at 8pm.

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